by Shelby Powers
Nobel Peace Prize winner and former South African president Nelson Mandela passed away Dec 5 at the age of 95. Mandela’s legacy includes spending 27 years in prison for the anti-apartheid movement, bringing democracy and repairing South Africa’s race relations as its first black president in the 1990s. His last public appearance was in 2010 when his country hosted the World Cup.
The South African Foreign Ministry reported to BBC that 91 current heads of state or government, 10 former heads of state, 86 heads of delegations and 75 eminent persons were in attendance at Mandela’s memorial. Among these were all 3 former U.S. presidents, and current president Barack Obama. Joining these world leaders in the Johannesburg stadium, the crowd of just under 90,000 braved a rainstorm to celebrate Mandela’s life. The crowd, decked out in South African colors, celebrated Mandela’s life through dancing and singing anti-apartheid songs, creating an atmosphere of joy in the rainy stadium.
President Obama summed up Mandela’s legacy in his eulogy at the ceremony, saying to the crowd, “It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion and generosity and truth.”
Other speakers included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the presidents of Namibia, India, South Africa and Cuban President Raúl Castro. In the spirit of Mandela’s legendary unity and forgiveness, President Obama and President Castro, whose countries have traditionally been adversaries, shared an unexpected handshake.
The ceremony concluded with a more somber tone, after speeches from Mandela’s family members, members of his political party the African National Congress, and even one of Mandela’s fellow prison inmates from Robben Island.
Mandela’s body will be taken to his ancestral home village of Qunu, where he requested to be his final resting place.